Toward Better DCPS Budgets

[Ed. Note: This, the second of two blog posts on DCPS budgeting, compares DCPS’s comprehensive staffing model and school-based budgeting–with needed cautions relative to the shock doctrine school budgeting currently being imposed on DCPS (as outlined in the first blog post of this series). This blog post was created in July 2019 by two DCPS parents, Betsy Wolf and Grace Hu–with input from other members of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization (W6PSPO).]

By Betsy Wolf and Grace Hu

As Ward 6 parents who have served on LSATs and have been involved with school budgeting for years, we are concerned the school budget reforms currently being discussed, including at the June 26, 2019, council hearing, may fall short of significantly improving equity for students, and, if implemented in a haphazard way, may even exacerbate inequities in school funding. This paper outlines our initial thinking about the budget models being discussed and is informed by research on school finance.

The comprehensive staffing model (CSM) is not to blame for current inequities in funding.

Inequities with the current budgeting approach are due to high-poverty schools not being provided with adequate supplemental dollars above and beyond the CSM. This is not an issue with the CSM per se. Rather, it is due to the choices around how monies (e.g., at-risk, Title 1) are allocated to schools beyond the CSM. We do not know whether DCPS simply doesn’t have enough money to both implement the CSM and layer on additional funds, whether they are inefficiently spending needed money in Central Office, or whether they do not have the desire to layer on additional funds above and beyond the CSM.

It is possible to maintain the CSM and increase funding equity by requiring that schools serving at-risk students receive a certain percent of additional funds above and beyond the CSM and dependent on their student populations. The CSM may also need to be adjusted to ensure it allocates sufficient additional resources for special education and English learner students depending on their level of need. However, DCPS needs adequate funds overall to attempt this approach.

Moving to a student-based budgeting (SBB) model may not result in increased equity.

While a SBB model could provide more flexibility to schools, determining the weights for such a model would be complicated and, if funds are insufficient, may not necessarily result in improved equity compared with the status quo.

If we move toward a SBB approach, extreme care is needed to ensure that schools will receive adequate and equitable funds. The details matter (e.g., what the student weights are, if students are doubly counted for being in more than one category, will the weights provide at least the same amount of resources as they received in the CSM, etc.). If extreme care is not taken, a SBB approach could lead to increased inequity in school budget allocations.

Council has also discussed requiring DCPS to start with the previous year’s budget and then justify any (likely modest) changes. While this idea would provide increased stability from year to year, it is flawed due to the current inequities, inconsistencies, and exceptions already baked into school budgets.

More analysis is needed, but certain actions can be taken immediately.

While various analyses have been presented on challenges and potential actions to address the current funding model, we have yet to see a comprehensive trade-off analysis that provides a menu of options (including budget-neutral options) for enhancing equity in school funding allocations. We urge there to be a comprehensive trade-off analysis, as opposed to defaulting to a specific budget model. In the near term, we recommend the following:

–DCPS should craft school budgets for the 2020-21 school year this fall using the CSM, indicate how many at-risk and Title 1 funds are allocated to each school above and beyond the CSM, and produce a side-by-side comparison of school budgets for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years.

–If moving to a SBB model is seriously considered, DCPS should produce simulations of how SBB would affect school funding levels (and make these simulations publicly available) before any changes are made.


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